The Eagle reported today that Wichita will probably be teetering on the edge of not complying with the stricter new ground-level ozone rules the Environmental Protection Agency approved this week. This morning, The Washington Post is reporting that those new ozone levels would have been lower if President Bush had not intervened and pressed for higher limits.
The Post reports:
“The dispute involved one of two distinct parts of the EPA’s ozone restrictions: the “public welfare” standard, which is designed to protect against long-term harm from high ozone levels. The other part is known as the “public health” standard, which sets a legal limit on how high ozone levels can be at any one time. The two standards were set at the same level Wednesday, but until Bush asked for a change, the EPA had planned to set the “public welfare” standard at a lower level.”
That is being sharply criticized by environmental groups, and it is clear that many scientists said that lower ozone thresholds are necessary to protect not just humans, but wildlife. But it also may be viewed by some as good news for cities like Wichita that will probably be on the cusp of non-compliance when the EPA labels cities for attainment and non-attainment in 2010. Given how close Sedgwick County is to being above the new limits today, even lower limits would greatly increase the area’s chances of losing highway funding and other restrictions.
Another thing worth examining is what the city of Wichita has done. In interviews yesterday, Environmental Services Director Kay Johnson said the city has known for years that ozone levels were flirting with regulatory action. And, she said, the city has continued to ramp up its public education campaigns as well as examine how things are done in City Hall, home to hundreds of taxpayer-funded vehicles and other ozone-contributing equipment.
Among the things Johnson said the city has progressed on are:
- Recent presentations to the Regional Economic Area Partnership about the risks the area faces.
- Broadcast presentations about ozone and associated risks on the city’s cable Channel 7.
- Upgraded most of the city’s bus fleet with more efficient buses. (The Eagle notes, however that the price of riding those buses recently went up.)
- Funding of the Intelligent Transportation System, which is a network of cameras and billboards that, in several years, will line most of Kellogg and I-135 in the central Wichita area. The idea is to divert traffic around accidents and construction that would otherwise leave them idling in the road.
- Completed most of the elevated railroad corridor, which also reduces the number of cars eating gas while trains pass.
The city put out a press release late last night. See that here.